Following on from yesterday's bicycle commute, the other half of my commutes are by motorcycle. People try to make cyclists appear as an out group, something different and unusual but we are like everybody else - I motorcycle and a drive too. I get to relax more on a motorcycle and I'm able to make a lot more observations of the world around.
It's 8:35am and I don protective gear head to toe, helmet, jacket, trousers and boots. If I ever crash, I should get to keep my skin on my body instead of leaving it on the tarmac. I can go into central Cambridge two ways, directly south, or via the A14, M11 and Barton Road. But the A14 is a death trap at this time. If I join at Oakington J30 the left lane is a static queue, then lanes 2 and 3 are 50mph+, its just impossible to merge safely and would be certain death if I made a mistake.
I fire up the engine and the high level exhausts, just two feet away from my nose, deliver a waft of poisonous gasses to my nose, then the wind takes it away. I'm well aware of the pollution I'm generating on the motorbike.
I join the High Street at the Broad Lane mini roundabout, a popular crash spot. It's a T for me and traffic from the left comes over at full speed so I have to eye ball drivers and wait for them to stop even though I have right-of-way.
Once on the High Street I have cars ahead and behind and it feels like we are an unstoppable tidal surge. Past the Post Office and towards Co-Op corner the road thins. A group of teenagers are on the left path which is about 3 feet wide. The car in front just whizzes past without slowing, its wing mirror close shaving the kerb at 25mph. I always fear wing mirrors when walking around the village.
Up towards the village college, children start to dart across the road. There is a child on a bike waiting to cross at the pedestrian reserve so I stop and let him cross. He looks surprised that somebody stopped. I'm slightly earlier today and there is less vehicle chaos in and out of the school but more children on foot. As I join Histon Road, two school children are on bicycles on the path, and wow something I've never seen before, a teenage girl on a bicycle on the road. I can see the traffic overtaking her. If that was my daughter I'd have to think long and hard about letting her cycle on such a busy road.
As I ride Histon Road at 30mph it seems a lot quieter than yesterday. I think it is partly because I am 10 minutes earlier and so there is less traffic, but also because I go at the same speed as the rest of the traffic and nobody overtakes me. As I approach the end of the 30mph zone, a car catches me but is not pressuring me as usual. Beside the cycle path I recognise a female commuter, there are not many. In all there were four cyclists using the path in the minute or two before I get to Histon.
Just before Orchard Road the traffic queue starts. The traffic may be lighter but the queue is just as long as yesterday. I filter past counting 41 cars waiting for the lights. If they got out of their cars and stood in a group, you could probably fit them in the cyclists advance stop box :-)
While waiting at the lights it is heaving with pedestrians and bicycles, so many more teenagers cycling than I have ever noticed before in Histon. There really is a bicycle culture forming here. There are still a huge amount of cars heading in the direction Impington Lane and the school.
South of the green the traffic is static. I filter past it all. It's stop-start filtering because today I don't have my own lane, just the hatched area and central islands to squeeze past. At the next set of lights at Station Road, the lights go amber, then red and cars keep coming. The last car to jump the lights, a BMW, is now blocking two lanes and can't move because of the queue. I manage to squeeze round its nose.
New Road is next, yesterday this was where cars were being let through and people were angry. Again, cars come across without looking for filtering two wheelers. More filtering, more red light jumping cars at Station Road.
I just can't trust traffic lights on my motorcycle. If blindly went across junctions on green, I'm certain I would be dead. The light jumping, amber gambling and follow through by motor vehicles is endemic and a great issue for me as a vulnerable road user. I wish there were red light cameras. I never quite get why the world points the finger at cyclists while ignoring drivers.
Histon Road is moving, that is a surprise, non stop all the way past the Gilbert Road lights. An adult cyclist with child trailer sits in the middle of the junction while traffic either side passes at 30mph. They look trapped and isolated. There are loads more parent and child cyclists waiting to go across from Warwick Road into Gilbert Road. I can't believe all the fuss about the Gilbert Road cycle lanes. These families need them.
The rest of Histon Road is uneventful, until the lights. A car came across when we had green, I estimate about four seconds after the red appeared. At the roundabout at the bottom of Madingley Road I got SMIGAFed by van coming through at 30mph. This happens a lot here. "Sorry Mate I Don't Give a F**k" - they look, they see you, they go, perhaps because they are going too fast or in a bigger vehicle. "If we crash, I die" is what I always tell myself.
The traffic is also moving freely on The Backs, then I enter the 20mph zone. On Pembroke Street I have an Audi accelerate hard and sit on my tail. I am doing 20. As soon as I indicate it dodges round me and speeds up. This would be a good spot to catch speeders, it can be hard to cross this road on foot.
Parking is not an issue, there is always a space for a motorcycle, even on the rare occasion there is no official space, I can find somewhere to squeeze it in.
That journey probably sounds more eventful than it actually was. The big difference having a motor makes, it that I don't have to worry about overtakers and close passing (just the occasional tailgater). Almost all danger lies in front of me and I have learned to deal with that. Statistically it is more dangerous to ride a motorcycle, but you can avoid a lot of that danger with training and experience.
The rush hour journey actually takes 30 minutes, 5 minutes longer than cycling because the filtering is harder with no dedicated lanes. I do arrive ready to work immediately, no cool-down time required, bbut also remembering that I've had no exercise today.
I've always wondered how long it would take if I didn't filter like a car but I don't want to waste my life away. Last time I took the bus it took about 45 minutes once on the bus but waiting for one to turn up was a big chunk of time and £5.70 return. It's £2.50 in fuel for the motorcycle plus other costs of course.
Later that day ...
As if to prove a point I was waiting at the junction with Queens Road and Silver St the lights turned red for all directions and the entire junction turns to a pedestrian phase, you know, the green man and beeping. Out of nowhere a car ripped across the junction obviously accelerating like Amber Gamblers do but it was so late a pedestrian was already crossing in front of them. Thankfully the pedestrian had learned like me that cars cause fatal injuries and kept watching as they walked and saw it and backed up. The car had to go around them at high speed.
The irony is that motorists complain bitterly about Red Light Jumping cyclists (not pedestrians by the way) and this junction is a very popular place to do it. Cyclists every day go on the pedestrian phase to gain convenience and to negotiate the junction without motor vehicles. I have never seen a pedestrian worried about this type of RLJ.
Vulnerable road users feel totally powerless to control the lethal behaviour of a few motorists and there is little point reporting what happened here because the Police require too much proof. There are so many eyes out there, if only they could be used.